The new face of leadership at the Davos forum | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 22.01.2018
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The new face of leadership at the Davos forum

The share of women participating in the World Economic Forum in Davos has never been bigger, and numerous topics are scheduled to address the situation of women. Does this come on the back of the #MeToo debate?

She strolls into the room casually, her beige turtleneck doesn't seem warm enough and she shivers a bit. Outside, it has been snowing incessantly; the windows of this small bar here in Davos are adorned by long icicles. Pia Mancini is Argentinian. It's summer in her home country at the moment, but she has been living in New York City with her husband and small daughter for the past three years, where temperatures have been pretty frosty in recent weeks as well.

The 34-year old just finished a discussion with Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. It was about social equality, the industrial revolution and about the people shaping our future. Pia Mancini is one of them. She is considered an influential woman and a tech pioneer. She is fascinated by blockchain technology — computers that interact without a centralized control. This could open up many opportunities for political participation, she says. Networks that join for a common course and give the political establishment a run for its money.

In Argentina, she has already experienced this. She co-founded a platform called "DemocracyOS," where proposed legislation is immediately explained in an easily understandable way and then discussed. It is even possible to cast a vote there to test public opinion. That's what direct democracy can look like. Politicians get swift feedback.

Pia Mancini

Tech pioneer Pia Mancini wants to take democracy to a new level

A more feminine Davos

Pia Mancini was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos for the first time. Here, she gets an opportunity to discuss issues with the likes of Microsoft founder Bill Gates or IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. But she is also here because Davos looks different this year. Twenty-one percent of the participants are women, a record number, and all seven so-called co-chairs, who have a significant role in accompanying the discussions, are women. Among them is Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway, or the head of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Fabiola Gianotti. It seems like a small revolution for what had so far been a clearly male-dominated environment at the World Economic Forum.

"Time is up for discrimination and abuse against women," tweeted IWF managing director Christine Lagarde, who is one of the co-chairs at Davos.

Sudden media interest

But the World Economic Forum is reserved in its take on this trend. "We recognize that it is a very strong signal but it is not a reaction at all," stresses Saadia Zahidi in an interview with DW. She says the issue has been on the agenda of the World Economic Forum for years.

The woman from Pakistan is responsible for the important area of "Education, Gender and Employment" at the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, which views itself as a think tank for ideas. She says the WEF works closely with companies, NGOs and governments. It advises Turkey and South Korea as well as Mexico, Argentina and Japan. The objective is always to increase the participation of women in all areas of business and society. Saadia Zahid feels that the success is visible, but the pace of transformation still differs widely.

This year, media interest in gender-related topics is noticeable, though, she says. She constantly gets interview requests, Zahidi says, somewhat surprised, even though there have always been many topics on the agenda related to women. Interest in the Gender Gap Report is enormous this year as well, she says.

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The World Economic Forum has published this report for the past 11 years. It investigates the situation of women in 144 countries. According to the report, the situation of woman actually hasn't improved but gotten worse. But there are positive examples as well. "Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world. It will probably be the first country to close the gender gap if it continues at this rate of change but, just note, even though it is the No. 1 country, it has not yet fully closed the gender gap."

More women — it's worth it

For the World Economic Forum, the call for more women in leadership positions has a clear economic component as well. Saadia Zahidi is convinced: "Business will perform better if the participation of women at all levels increases."

For Pia Mancini, there is no turning back now for societies worldwide. "We have reached a tipping point, things are not going to be the same," she says passionately. However, the discussion cannot only be about white middle-class women in well-developed economies.

"Where are the poor victims of harassment, the less privileged, where are the Mexican women who are being raped?" she asks forcefully. Their voices have to be heard as well. "There is so much to be done," she says. Mancini herself wants to raise her voice and join the discussion at Davos. When it's about women, about new technologies and about political campaigns.

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